The People Be Damned

Steven Miller

Judges like to posture as wise and fair authority figures. But the reality is that any judge is an amalgam of two of the most-often-despised occupational types of American life: the lawyer and the politician.

And sometimes it shows.

The Nevada Supreme Court has been notorious for years for unintelligent, highly politicized and often transparently corrupt decisions. It is no wonder that time and again major American corporations — having looked into the possibility of locating their headquarters in the Silver State for tax reasons — back carefully away. What has happened? They got a sudden whiff of Nevada’s malodorous judicial system.

Yet even given this record, the court on Thursday outdid itself. And in so doing it deeply injured every man, woman and child in this state for years and years to come — for as long as Thursday’s decision stands.

In essence the court ruled that Nevada citizens are, from now on, to be defenseless victims of rape and plunder by political special interests. Twice Silver State citizens had overwhelmingly agreed that they needed to erect high constitutional protections against the depredations of the political class. But Thursday, the justices — personifications of that same predatory political class — leapt at the opportunity to obliterate those protections.

“Taxes in this state should be hard to raise,” said the people when they passed the Gibbons tax restraint initiative.

“No, no, no,” said six voices of distilled judicial arrogance on Thursday: “Imposing heavy new taxes on you should be easy — and that, we decree, shall be your future!”

The court did its dirty work in the guise of resolving a fancied “tension” it had postulated between the state constitution’s mandate for public education and its mandate that tax increases must pass each house of the Legislature by a two-thirds vote.

“If the procedural two-thirds revenue vote requirement in effect denies the public its expectation of access to public education,” wrote the justices, “then the two-thirds requirement must yield to the specific substantive educational right.”

Superficially the argument is plausible. But on closer inspection it falls apart — revealing rank political intent at its bottom.

The “in effect,” in the above quote, is the giveaway. That’s because the state Legislature’s paralysis was never the effect of a single factor, such as the constitution’s two-thirds rule. A whole host of problems have been behind the Legislature’s predicament. Thus the court could have, with equal merit, cited any of them in its “if-then” clause, above.

The first and foremost problem was — and still is — the disagreement between the chambers over what kind of new tax should be passed into law. The Senate insists on no income or gross receipts tax, while the Assembly insists that one or the other must be imposed. That the Black Robed Ones studiously and rigorously ignored this point throughout their entire written opinion virtually shouts of their bad faith. That’s because, while jettisoning Nevada’s two-thirds rule certainly thrills the tax-looters, it does nothing to resolve the key dispute between chambers.

A second major source of the Legislature’s paralysis was the governor’s refusal during special sessions to allow reopening of the state budget. Certainly, by the court’s logic, the constitutional provision that allows a governor to be as stubborn as his personal demons might desire must also be in great “tension” with the constitutional mandate to support education. Why didn’t The Six prioritize that away?

Yet all these “tensions” are minuscule in comparison to the overt violation of the state constitution that the Supreme Court majority chose to smile benignly upon and swallow without a hiccup.

Article IV, Section 17 requires that “Each law enacted by the Legislature shall embrace but one subject…” Had the court condescended to enforce this actual provision of the constitution Thursday against its actual violation by Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, the entire education crisis could have been ended simply and instantly, with no violence to the 2/3 rule.

That’s because it was the speaker and his Assembly allies who consciously generated the state’s education-funding crisis. They unconstitutionally tied uncontroversial legislation to fund Nevada schools to highly controversial legislation to force on Nevadans the largest tax increase in state history.

What Nevada’s power-besotted high court has done, in order to support the Guinn-Perkins tax-raising scam, is trash Nevada’s constitution.

But this is a grave mistake. No six-pack of lawyer-politicians can so casually, so brazenly, spit on the law before a public it has wounded so grievously.

Having sown the wind, they will now reap the whirlwind.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.